Percy Quin State Park is Mississippi’s most popular state park, and there are plenty of reasons why. It is a haven for golfers and anglers, and it has great facilities for camping and cabining.
One activity that it seems few people associate with south Mississippi is hiking, but lately, Percy Quin has actually become my favorite place to hike.
Some years back in February, the Boy Scouts were preparing to go on a long hike at Shiloh battlefield in Tennessee, so we were doing a bunch of prep hikes all over southwest Mississippi. One of our prep hikes was a 10-miler at Percy Quin.
The official material says the nature trail is 8 miles around the lake, but we found that you park at the Quail Hollow Golf Course parking lot and walk to the trailhead at the northeast corner of the park, around the lake and back to the parking lot, you can stretch the trek to 10 miles.
At that time, there was still a lot of bridge and boardwalk damage from Hurricane Isaac, and we’d just had some rains, so park employees were not sure if we’d be able to get all the way around the lake. Sure enough, there were about a half dozen challenging water crossings where the Scouts had to engineer a way across.
In a couple of spots they scouted up- and downstream until they found a downed tree that could be used to cross. In one remote spot there was about 6 feet of boardwalk missing, so the Scouts piled small sticks and branches in the water until we were able to step across.
Toward the end of the hike we came across a bridge that looked like a giant had picked it up and broken it across his knee, but we managed to pick our way across and continue.
Several of the Scouts later told me that muddy, soggy, boggy Percy Quin hike was the most fun hike they’d ever done, and that they wanted to repeat it every year. So we decided to name it the Swamp Tromp and find a time each spring to repeat it.
About a year later we had our Second Annual Swamp Tromp. My oldest son, Whit, had just finished repairing five or six of the bridges and boardwalks for his Eagle Scout project, so even though the water was way up from the rains earlier that week, we didn’t have as many wet crossings as the previous year.
We did have to tromp through several boggy spots, but that was no problem. As TV personality and Eagle Scout Mike Rowe likes to say, “A Scout is clean — but not afraid to get dirty!”
Seeing the flora starting to green up after the short, mild winter was like a reunion with old friends. The Florida anise was a riot of red blooms all along the soggiest parts of the trail. The wisteria that we’d seen a few weeks earlier seemed to be mostly gone, although at one point on the trail a breeze washed over us with an intoxicating scent of unseen wisteria.
What we missed in wisteria was made up for by the abundant honeysuckle blossoms. A sign of the mild winter and the early spring was the tulip poplar trees that we saw already starting to put on their dramatic flowers.
Another fond friend that we were reunited with was the American beech. Beech is easiest to identify in mid-winter because the trees retain their dead yellow-brown leaves all winter long, so they are easy to spot in a hardwood forest that has otherwise dropped its leaves. They are also identifiable because of the smooth, soft, pale bark that kids and idiots like to carve initials into.
In the spring, beeches finally drop their yellow-brown leaves and put on new leaves, and sunlight filtering through new beech leaves turns the whole world that iconic spring-green color. When you enter a beech copse it almost seems the air itself glows green.
We stopped for a late lunch under a large beech tree, and the scene brought to mind stories of travelers who would stumble upon a fairy copse and lie entranced for a hundred years. We sat there for a while and then somehow managed to tear ourselves away from the enchantment and return to the trail.
That first Swamp Tromp was a day hike, but that second year we broke it up into two more leisurely days. We did about 7.5 miles the first day and spent the night in hammocks at the primitive campsite on the far side of the lake. The next morning was Sunday, so we made an invigorating 1-mile hike to Wayside Chapel and listened to Kirk Haskins’ excellent message on the Resurrection, after which we had a leisurely roadside stroll back to the parking lot to complete our 10 miles.
There are several reasons Percy Quin State Park has become my favorite place for hiking. Since it’s closer than five miles from my home, I can get a wild hair, throw my stuff in the car and be on the trail in 10 minutes if I want to. It is also very inexpensive — especially if you park at Quail Hollow and walk in.
There is a lot of variety at Percy Quin. On that one
Ten miles is long enough that in places it can sufficiently fool you into thinking you are really out in the wild, but it is also easily doable in an afternoon. Or if you want to break it up into two days, there are pleasant tent or hammock sites at the primitive campsite on the far side of the lake.
I would encourage any hikers or would-be hikers out there to make their own Swamp Tromp at Percy Quin State Park. I know the Boy Scouts of Troop No. 124 will be hiking there and helping to maintain that trail for years to come.